India’s diverse culture, history and exceptional architecture are reflected on the temple walls that have been preserved through the centuries. With the rise of Hinduism, India witnessed the establishment of numerous temples dedicated to various deities of the Hindu pantheon. With temples scattered throughout the country, each of them unique in their own way, attempts were made to classify them on the basis of their region, architectural style and complexity.

According to the Shilpashastra the temples of India can be classified into three types:

• Nagara Style (North Indian style), were the temples belonging to the land between the Himalayas and the Vindhyas

• Dravidian Style (South Indian style) were the temples belonging to the land between the rivers Krishna and Kaveri

• Vesara Style (a hybrid of northern and southern style) were the temples belonging to the land between the Vindhyas and the River Krishna.

Certain features that distinguish a Darvidian style of architecture from the other two styles are:

• Vimana – The Vimana is the tall structure surmounting the sanctum sanctorum (garbhagriha). A pyramidal structure and square in plan, the vimana has several tiers placed one above the other in a decreasing order.

• Stupika – Stupika is the large stone that tops the last tier of the vimana. The stupika is topped with the finial adding to the height of the vimana.

• Gopurams – Gopurams are tall gateways peculiar to the South Indian style of temple architecture. The gopurams evolved with time and became the focal points in the later temples of South India. The later temples have taller gopurams, often taller than the vimana itself.


• The period between the latter half of the sixth and the first half of the tenth century, an interval of the four hundred years, marks an important epoch in the history of south India, and its culture.

• It coincides with the rise of power of three important dynasties, the Chalukyas of Badami, the pallavas of Kanchi (modern Kanchipuram) and the Pandyas of Madurai and simultaneously the revival of Saivism and Vaishnavism heralded by the Nayanmars and Alvars in the Tamil country.

• Both geographically and politically, the Pallavas of Kanchi inevitably formed the central power.

• They developed first time architecture and sculpture in the hardest varieties of local stones, which the other dynasties , particularly the Pandyas and the Muttaraiyas also took up according to their own and slightly different concepts, while the Chalukyas and the Rashtrakutas, continued the pre-existing and almost unbroken tradition of rock-architecture and sculpture of the Deccan and the north.

• Though the political history of the early Pallavas would start with Simhavishnu (circa A.D. 550-80), the founder of the line, the originator of the Pallava Architecture and sculpture was his great son Mahendravarman I (circa A.D. 580-630).


• The great achievement of Mahendravarman in the field of rock-cut architecture was not merely his introduction of the technique of cutting into rock and the creation of stone temples for the first time in the south, but also the inevitable choice of hard rocks like granite and gneiss and the perfection his workmen attained in the new material within a short period.

• In this he was really vichitra-chitta “the curious or inventive mind “, as he claims himself in the exultation of his first achievements, viz., the excavation of the cave temple for the Trinity at Mandagappattu.

• In his inscription in the cave temple, he says, that he created the ayatana (home) named after one of his titles ‘lakshita’,’the distinguished, without the use of the traditional

material such as brick, timber, metal, mortar and plaster for Brahma, Isvara and Vishnu, and calls himself, therefore, vichitra-chitta.

• This Lakshiayatana was really distinguished in two important ways:one was, as the inscription says, that it was not a construction out of the ordinary material; the other was that it was excavated in hard rock- a material not tackled by the contemporary Chalukyas or the earlier dynasties of the Deccan and north India.

• The material wrought by the Maurayas, Andhras, Guptas, Ikshvakus and Chalukyas, to mention only the most important of the earlier dynasties, was deliberately chosen soft rock, such as sandstone, trap or similar material.

• In the background of tackling the hardest of the rocks and the success he achieved, Mahendravarman is to be compared with the emperor Asoka and his son Dasratha, who perhaps for the first time in history, excavated into the hard boulders of quartzose -gneiss near Gaya (Bihar). Their Barabar and Nagarjuni caves were excavated by quarrying into the hardest rock and carving and polishing it with infinite labor, which technique started and ended there within the same century.

• The Maurayan artisans were, at the same time, no less adepts in the softer sandstone, and these traditions started by them continued for centuries. They could easily quarry the material in large blocks, work it to some extent on the quarry site and transport the roughly finished product over great distances for final erection and finish.

• One Thousand years later, under the Pallavas, hard rocks, being again used either for cutting in as caves or cutting out Shrines or for building up into structural temples at places far away from the quarry sites.

• Following the Pallavas, the Pandyas and the Muttaraiyas did likewise and thus establish the tradition of construction in hardstone material; which, in the time of the cholas, reached its high watermark in the Brihadeswra Temple at tanjavur and Gaingaikondacholapuram.

• The same material continued to be employed by subsequent dynasties-the later Pandyas, the Vijaynagara rulers, the Nayakas -and has been employed even in modern times in the south with greater dexterity in quarrying and working.

• Thus, Pallava architecture and art would stand both in its material and technique from the rest of their contemporary counterparts as an appropriate creation of a Lakshita (idealist), who was also a vichitra-chitta.


• Owing to the inherit nature of the rock-material and its difference from the materials employed by the contemporary Chalukyas and the earlier dynasties, the technique and the results inevitable differed from others.

• While the softer variety of stones could be quarried into large blocks easily by the pick and finished with the chisel and hammer, the entire work on the hard stones would be patient quarrying and finishing with chisel and hammer alone involving greater time, labour and skill. The beams , brackets and pillars of the cave -temples were therefore short, very massive with almost no sculptural decoration and with minimum intercolumnar space.

• Likewise , the interiors of the cave-temples and the exteriors of the cut-out temples could have only a limited amount of sculptural decoration, the few sculptures being large sized , as opposed to the density and lavishness of sculpture and decoration in the sandstone and other materials of contemporary and earlier dates.

• The same will have to be said about the stone structural temples of the Pallvas and the dynasties that followed them in south.

• The sculptures in the earlier cave temples and monolithic and structural temples of the Pallavas are mainly bas-reliefs of large size , judiciously distributed and not cut more or less in the round or almost cut out as in contemporary Chalukyan and Rashtrakuta examples.

• Whatever further embellishments the monuments needed were supplied by a thin coat of plaster over the smoothened stone surface and painting thereon.

• The scheme of plastering the interiors was employed for different reasons after the Maurayas in the Buddhist cave temples and viharas , where it evidently took the place of the Mauryan Polish.


The classification of Pallava monuments :

• All the earlier Pallava monuments are rock-cut cave temples with one external façade cut in the face of the rock. All of the earlier Pallava cave temples were excavated during the reign of Mahendravarman-I, in the early part of the seventh century, and therefore belong to Mahendra period

• Secondly, monuments of the intermediate period, although are monolithic, comprise free-standing rock-cut temples commonly known as rathas as well as cave temples. Temples belonging to intermediate period were mostly cut out of the rock in the reign of Mamalla during the latter half of the seventh century and therefore belong to Mamalla Period.

• Thirdly, monuments belonging to late period are structural buildings built on stone and brick. The structural monument of the latter period were started by Rajasimha at the beginning of the eighth century and thus belong to style of Rajasimha.

• There is still later style than that of Rajasimha , dating from about 800-900 A.D., which may be called the style of Nandivarman.

Classification of Pallava architecture into Four styles: –

i. Mahendra style, 610-640 A.D.

ii. Mamalla style, 640-674 A.D.

iii. Rajasimha style, 674-800 A.D.

iv. Nandivarman style , 800 – 900 A.D.


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